Manusmriti with the Commentary of Medhatithi

by Ganganatha Jha | 1920 | 1,381,940 words | ISBN-10: 8120811550

This is the English translation of the Manusmriti, which is a collection of Sanskrit verses dealing with ‘Dharma’, a collective name for human purpose, their duties and the law. Various topics will be dealt with, but this volume of the series includes 12 discourses (adhyaya). The commentary on this text by Medhatithi elaborately explains various t...

Sanskrit text, Unicode transliteration and English translation by Ganganath Jha:

तस्मिन् देशे य आचारः पारम्पर्यक्रमागतः ।
वर्णानां सान्तरालानां स सदाचार उच्यते ॥ १८ ॥

tasmin deśe ya ācāraḥ pāramparyakramāgataḥ |
varṇānāṃ sāntarālānāṃ sa sadācāra ucyate || 18 ||

That practice, which has comb down through an unbroken line op tradition among the several castes and subcastes in that country, is called the ‘Practice of Good Men.’—(18)


Medhātithi’s commentary (manubhāṣya):

Question—“As regards the usage in the said country, what is the condition of its reliability? Is it learning and culture? Or the connection of the particular country is the only condition, and the practices of the ignorant and the uncultured also arc authoritative? We ask this because if ‘learning’ and ‘culture’ are not regarded as necessary conditions, then the two qualifications mentioned in the sixth verse—in the phrase ‘the Practice of good and learned men’—become futile. And further, it is not possible for the ‘Practice of Bad men’ to be a source of Dharma, for the simple reason that such persons can have nothing to do with the Veda. If, on the other hand, learning and culture do form the conditions of reliability, then no useful purpose will have been served by the counection of the particular country herein mentioned; because it cannot be said that practice of learned and cultured men of other countries is not authoritative.”

Our answer to the above is as follows:—The statement is based upon probability; the chances are that in the country mentioned only learned and cultured men are born. This is what is meant by the assertion that ‘the Practice in that country is called the Practice of good.’

Others have explained that the verse is intended to deny the authority of a purely local ‘Practice’ (Usage), on the ground that in other countries people marry the daughter of the maternal uncle.

This explanation is not right. Because it has been laid down as a general principle that ‘from among the practices of the country, the family and the caste, only that should be done what is not contrary to law’; and the marrying of one’s maternal cousin is actually contrary to the law, as found in the injunction that ‘one should marry beyond the seventh grade of relationship on the father’s side and beyond the fifth on the mother’s’ [and the maternal cousin falls within these prohibited degrees] Further, as regards the said country of Brahmāvarta also there are certain practices—such as eating in the same dish with boys who have not undergone the Brahmanical Initiation—which are not regarded as authoritative. In fact no practice can ever be authoritative which is contrary to Smṛti; because it would be so much further removed from the Veda (the source of all authority); as the Practice leads to the inference of the Smṛti, and the Smṛti leads to the inference of the Veda; while the Smṛti leads to the inference of its corroborative Veda directly. There is another reason why Practices like the one mentioned above can never be even suspected to be authoritative. Such Practices are found to be clearly due to perceptible motives: e.g., some one having fallen in love with a handsome maternal cousin married her, through fear of the King, in order to escape from the penalty that would be inflicted for violating the chastity of an unmarried girl; and others who came after him being themselves illiterate and relying upon the words ‘one should go on on the same path on which his father and grand-father have gone’ (Manu, 4.178), taken in their literal sense, came to regard the said marrying as ‘Dharma’ (something that should he done). Then again, even though the text (4.172) prescribes an expiatory rite in connection with the taking as wife of the three classes of girls (the daughter of the Father’s sister, the daughter of the Mother’s sister and the daughter of the Mother’s brother),—yet people are liable to fall into the mistake that marriage with relatives other than the three specified here is not interdicted. That such is not the meaning of the verse (11.172) wo shall explain later on.

Now no Smṛti or Practice, that is prompted by a perceptible motive, can ever be regarded as authoritative. Says the revered Bhatta (Kumārila)—‘That Smṛti, which is contrary to the Veda, or deprecated, and which serves a visible purpose, and is prompted by perceptible motives, can never he based upon the Veda.’

From all this it follows that what is contained in this verse is only an arthavāda, eulogising the particular country,—this eulogy being supplementary to the Injunction coming later on that ‘the Twice-born people should betake themselves to these countries’ (verse 21 below).

Pāramparya’ is the same as ‘paramparā,’ ‘Tradition’; which goes from one to the other, from him again to a fourth person, and so on; this succession is what is called ‘Tradition’; and ‘Krama,’ ‘line,’ stands for ‘unbroken continuity;’—‘come down’ means learnt.

Sub-castes’—are people of mixed birth;—the ‘castes’ along with these are called Sāntarālāḥ.


Explanatory notes by Ganganath Jha

Medhātithi (p. 75, 1. 5)—Kāraṇagrahaṇāt.’—When a custom or even a Smṛti rule, is found to be actually based upon some material motive,—no authority can attach to such custom or rule. Read in this connection Mīmāṃsā Sūtra 1. 3. 4, which discusses the authoritative character of such Smṛti rules as, while not contradicting any Śruti-rule, are yet found to be due to ignorance or covetousness; e.g. the text laying down that the cloth with which the sacrificial post is covered should be given to the priest. The conclusion on this point is that such rules have no authority. (See, for further details, Prābhākara—Mīmāṃsā, pp. 138-139).

This verse is quoted in the Madanapārijāta (p. 12);—in the Dānamayūkha (p. 7);—in the Saṃskāramayūkha (p. 4),—and in the Vīramitrodaya—Paribhāṣa (p. 55), which adds the following notes:—‘Paramparya;’ is the same as ‘paramparā’, ‘Tradition,’—i. e., that whose beginning cannot be traced;—this precludes the authority of modern customs;—‘antarāla’ are the mixed castes;—it quotes Medhātithi to the effect that the purport of this verse is to eulogise the custom of the particular country, and not to deny the authority of the customs of other countries.


Comparative notes by various authors

(Verses 18-23)

Vaśiṣṭha, 1.7-12.—‘Aryāvarta is the country which is to the East of the spot of disappearance, to the West of Kālakavana, to the North of Pāriyātra and the Vindhya and to the South of the Himālaya. The Dharma and practices prevalent in this country should be accepted in all places. Some people apply the name Āryāvarta to the land between the Gaṅgā and the Yamunā. Brahmanic glory is coterminous with the tract over which the black antelope roams.

Vaśiṣṭha, 15.9-14.—‘The Dharmas and Ācāras prevalent in that country should be accepted everywhere. The others are of contrary Dharma. Some people restrict Dharma to the country lying between the Gaṅgā and the Yamunā. Others again state that Brahmanic glory extends all over that tract of land over which the black deer roams. The limits of this tract are hounded on the west by the river Sindhu and on other sides by the Vaitariṇī river (in Mālwā, according to Vīramitrodaya, Paribhāṣa, p. 57); and by the spot where the sun rises.’ Vyāsa, 1.3.—‘The Vedic dharma can prevail only in that country over which the black deer roams naturally.’

Samvarta, 4.—‘That country where the black deer constantly roams at will is to be known as Dharma-deśa, where alone the duties of the twice-born can be performed.’

Baudhāyana, 1.25.25.—‘To the East of the spot of disappearance (of the Sarasvatī river), to the West of the Kālakavana, to the North of Pāriyātra and to the South of Himālaya,—this is Āryāvarta; it is the Sadāchāra of this country that is authoritative; according to some people it is the tract included between the Gaṅgā and the Yamunā.’

Śaṅkha-Likhita (Vīra-Pari.,p. 57).—‘That country is noble which lies to the East of the mountain where the Sun sets, to the West of that where the Sun rises, which is interspersed with high mountains and sacred rivers; this is the sacred land; or the land where the black antelope roams, or that to the East of the Sindhu and the Sauvīra, to the West of Kāmpilya, to the North of the Pāriyātra and to the South of the Himalaya,—here Brahmanic glory is complete.’

Paiṭhīnasi (ibid).—‘From Himālaya to the Kumārī (Cape Comorin), from the Sindhu and the Vaitariṇī and to the place where the sun rises, or where the black antelope roams,—over this land alone is Dharma present in its complete form.’

Viṣṇu, 74.4.—‘That country where there is no differentiation of the four castes should be known as the mleccha deśa; other than this is Āryāvarta.’

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